Boyd and the OODA Loop Discussion.

February 28, 2007 — 5 Comments

We’re having a pretty solid discussion about Robert Greene’s recent piece on the John Boyd and the OODA Loop. I’ll post more about Boyd in the future, just because he’s revolutionized how I think, but here are some of the thoughts I posted in the thread. I’m going to try to tie them in with a sentence or two to new media and PR.

We talked about secrecy within the OODA Loop and on my run today I remembered a crucial lesson I picked up from the book, where Boyd used it on an adversary.

As he would make attacks on people’s programs and ideas in the Pentagon, he would always low-ball the negative numbers. For instance, he would generously give all figures the benefit of the doubt–using the most optimistic data for the EMT equation. And since he was right, they still turned out in the disfavor of the people supporting the wrong program. When they challenged him using the actual numbers, they actually looked worse than if they’d accepted his criticism outright.

This falls into about 5 of the 48 Laws. 3) Conceal Your Intentions 8) Make other people come to you–use bait if necessary 17) Keep others in suspended terror: Cultivate an air of unpredictability. And on and on…

The reason Boyd didn’t like von Clausewitz was because he focused too much on reducing his own “friction” instead of causing it in the enemy. Boyd was a master at doing the opposite. That’s “embracing the chaos of war.” He’s funneling uncertainty at the enemy, seemingly conceding short term victory to goad them into biting of more than they can chew. It’s like poker, make them think you’re bluffing as you bait them into a killshot. Again, by cultivating that air on unpredictability you’re making them more likely to be detrimentally timid or brashly brave; neither of which is helpful for them.

So I think there is a subtle difference between secrecy and obfuscation. You’re not trying to pretend that you’re not up to something. On the contrary, you want them to be aware of your strategy–just not the right one. Boyd did this perfectly, he challenged his opponents openly, but they figured he’d be fudging the numbers in his favor not theirs. He’s just begging them to call him out, begging them to overextend so he can strike where they are vulnerable. “Make them come to you,” with bait and then reveal your pocket ace.

Which you can use on more investigative or critical pieces. Remember never to drop everything you have at once. If you’re calling someone or an entity out, be sure to be liberal (to them) in your calculations and conclusions. That why you eliminate semantic disagreements right off the bat. And best case scenario, you get them to challenge you on your date so you can smugly remind them that upon further consideration, things are actually worse than you first portrayed.

“Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road,” he said. “And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.” He raised his hand and pointed. “If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.” Then Boyd raised his other hand and pointed another direction. “Or you can go that way and you can do something–for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference. “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision. To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

Coram, Robert

Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War

And when you think about it, all the people who you truly respect, the

ones you trust, would do anything for, which path did they choose?

History’s true greats, ironically, didn’t choose the first path, they

chose the second. They decided to do something, and through it, become

someone. Look at Boyd–he was a fucking Colonel. All the generals he

butted heads against, the superiors who shit on him–they’re nobodies,

and they’ll never be remembered. And I have a feeling that as Boyd

studied the classics of military history, he may have picked up a copy

of The Meditations.

So, to me, while the OODA loop is important and a crucial component of

strategy, I have the feeling that the To Do or To Be speech will stick

with me a lot longer.

I don’t think that needs much explanation.

Anyways, join in the discussion and read Robert Coram’s book. Trust me.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

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